WIT seeks repayment of over €100,000 incurred by ex-president

PAC told Kieran Byrne spent funds on chartering aircraft, hospitality and other items

Former president Kieran Byrne, who left WIT (above) in 2011, is understood to have rejected  allegations on spending, which are the subject of legal proceedings. File photograph: Paddy Whelan/The Irish Times

Former president Kieran Byrne, who left WIT (above) in 2011, is understood to have rejected allegations on spending, which are the subject of legal proceedings. File photograph: Paddy Whelan/The Irish Times

 

Waterford Institute of Technology has sought repayment of more than  €100,000 in spending on travel and hospitality and other items incurred by a former president.

The costs include chartering private aircraft, taxis between the institute and the capital, and spending on hospitality.

The move follows a series of audits into spending connected to the president’s office between 2006 to 2011.

Former president Kieran Byrne, who left WIT in 2011, is understood to have rejected the allegations, which are the subject of legal proceedings.

While audits conducted in 2011 found there was no evidence of any personal benefit to Mr Byrne, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee heard on Thursday that WIT was now seeking repayment or clarification on a range of items.

Willy Donnelly, the current president of WIT, said internal auditors had flagged concerns in audits since 2011 over money connected to the president’s account.

Non-pay spending

These reports indicate there was almost €1 million of non-pay spending connected to the president’s account between 2006 and 2011.

Almost €370,000 of this was insufficiently documented, according to the audit, while about €110,000 may have had a “personal benefit” to Mr Byrne.

John Deasy, a Fine Gael TD for Waterford, told the committee he felt the former president had been dealt with badly by the institute.

“All the issues which came about in WIT were dumped on his doorstep and I think it was unfair and that he became a scapegoat for a lot of things which went wrong,” Mr Deasy said.

“He did a lot of good for the institute and, with regard to how he was dealt with personally by the Higher Education Authority [HEA] , there are issues to answer.”

Tom Boland of the HEA rejected allegations he personally sought Mr Byrne’s resignation during a meeting in 2011, when issues around spending at WIT first appeared in the media.

Sinn Féin TD Mary-Lou McDonald said the former president had been emphatic that Mr Boland had “sought his head on a platter” at a meeting in May 2011.

Accusation rejected

Mr Boland rejected the accusation and said it would have been inappropriate for the HEA to interfere with the appointment or dismissal of any individual.

He declined to comment further on the basis that the non-renewal of Mr Byrne’s contract was also subject to legal proceedings.

The committee heard Mr Byrne’s successor as president of WIT, Dr Ruaidhrí Neavyn, was now working for the HEA.

Seán Ó Foghlu, secretary-general of the Department of Education, said Mr Neavyn had requested a move from the institution to the HEA.

He was employed on a salary of €146,000, which was being paid for by WIT. Mr Ó Foghlu said it was moving to regularise the position and repay the institution the salary costs.